Thursday, September 6, 2018

Myths, Superstition, and Religion

Dear Reader,

I've been trying for months to come up with a perfect conclusion for my thoughts on how myths and superstition are different from religion; and how there's not really any argument to be had about these differences, anyway. 

I've been reading online articles and checking out books from the library; I've been writing notes for myself on napkins and wherever; I've even bought a couple of books about the history of various mythologies and ancient religious beliefs.

I've mentioned Hugh Nibley in previous posts on this subject, because he studied those ancient religions and their so-called myths, recognizing that one doesn't have to call everything that's old or connected with some ancient beliefs "myths"; any more than one has to call every factoid or idea or temporary equation from modern scientific beliefs or paradigms "science."

I like how Hugh Nibley shows ancient myths that dovetail with our LDS teachings (as in the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants, as well as, of course, the Bible). I loved reading this morning about the founding of the Baha'i faith and the explanation of Baha'i beliefs given by Baha'i leader Shoghi Effendi (*I'll paste it below in case you don't want to follow the link).  (Notice that the first thing he says the Baha'i faith does is "search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition.")

I like seeing how my non-LDS and non-Christian friends follow the same principles of behavior that we teach in our church.

I guess I've concluded: Scientists are no more rational and logical and no less likely to believe in superstitions and to have private religious beliefs than any other people. Scientists rarely decide to study science to "prove" that religions are "false," though of course some self-proclaimed scientists do become atheists and take it upon themselves to proselytize at every opportunity against religion.

I've gone through the five stages of grief, so to speak, about scientists who deny the existence of God (or of anything else above and/or beyond what they themselves, the self-proclaimed petty little gods of their own little worlds, their own little labs, their own pathetic students: 

Denial (I can't believe this man [because usually they're men] can be so closed-minded); anger (what's his problem, anyway, other than being an idiot!); depression (I guess there's no hope in the world of finding a bridge between science and religion); bargaining (if only I could explain that science and religion are both seeking after the same over-arching knowledge of the universe and our place in it!---then they'd stop being so mean!); and acceptance (oh, well, I'll just continue in my own way to understand, and apply my scientific method to science and my religious understanding to all those things that the scientific method can't explain).

Here's something funny, in an article called "The Science of Superstition," in the Feb. 16, 2015, issue of The Atlantic magazine:

A visitor once asked the Nobel Prize–winning physicist Niels Bohr whether he really believed that the horseshoe he’d hung at his country home was lucky. “Of course not,” Bohr said. “But I understand it’s lucky whether you believe in it or not.” (emphasis added by me)

If Bohr couldn’t resist magical thinking, can anyone? One recent study found that even physicists, chemists, and geologists at MIT and other elite schools were instinctively inclined to attach a purpose to natural events. When the researchers subjected the scientists to time pressure (reasoning that this could expose a person’s uncensored biases), they were twice as likely to approve of statements such as “Trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe” than they were when they had time to respond more deliberately [1]. Such bias may well be deep-seated: another recent study found that, regardless of their parents’ religiosity, 5-to-7-year-old children preferred explanations of events that involved lessons—like “Maggie’s house burned down to teach her not to play with fire anymore” [2].

But so what? Why do we care if scientists can sometimes be superstitious, too? Because they claim that all they're interested in is pure logic and science! I've even met someone who called himself a scientist, even though he was "just" an engineer (see? see how that creeps into an otherwise polite statement?), who said he wasn't interested in fiction and poetry because they weren't a valid way of learning about the world.

I could go on and on about this, but I'm not going to, not right now, anyway. 

*From the Patheos blog "Sic et Non," Shoghi Effendi explaining Baha'i teachings:

The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition (emphasis added by me); the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith; the basic unity of all religions; the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national; the harmony which must exist between religion and science; the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of human kind is able to soar; the introduction of compulsory education; the adoption of a universal auxiliary language; the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations; the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship; the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations; and the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind—these stand out as the essential elements.


Laura Pratt said...

This comment isn't directly related to science, but about a bigger search for "truth." This is something that I've sensed for years, and am now starting to see echoed in other statements. My thought has been this: truth exists everywhere, and no one church, religion, belief system, -ology, or institution has a monopoly on it. Even the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no claim on ALL the truth, which is how we know the "restoration" is ongoing. It was not a one-time event, but continues. It's why we have a LIVING prophet, etc.

Joseph Smith said that Latter-day Saints must “gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up” or they would not be “true ‘Mormons.’” (TPJS, p. 316; WJS, p. 234.)

The truth is out there (thanks, Agent Mulder), and part of the fun of this adventure is to continue looking and adding to the foundational truths we have.

Aunt Louise said...

Thank you Laura for your comment! You have summed it up brilliantly!